Han van Meegeren (1889-1947)
The Cat Cabinet possesses a work by Han van Meegeren called “Jongen met Poes” (Child with Cat). The subject of the painting is his son Jacques van Meegeren. Note – this is a genuine original work of this Dutch painter who is mostly known as a master forger of Vermeer paintings.
Van Meegeren studied Architecture under pressure from his father at the Technische Hoogeschool in Delft. Despite winning awards for his studies and talent, his interests lay with painting and drawing, and he quit his studies before finishing them. Van Meegeren didn’t have an easy start to his career and was ridiculed by many art critics, his paintings not taken seriously primarily because he found the old painting styles more interesting than the modern. In order to trick the critics he dedicated himself towards forging De Emmausgangers, a painting of Vermeer, and waited for the right moment to reveal that it’s not an original, in the hope of humiliating the critics. This moment would not come for a long while, however.
The forgery took years. Because van Meegeren was so good with the old techniques, knew how to imitate the materials (by getting a 17th-century canvas, for example) and worked with the same sort of brushes as Vermeer, he ended up very content with the result. The forgery reached many important art people and they were all quickly convinced of its authenticity. This triumph gave van Meergeren great personal success. The thought of making his forgery public disappeared when the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam bought the painting for a very high price. Van Meegeren had made his point – the art world could be duped. For him it was proof of his merits as a painter.
Aside from Vermeer there were other Old Masters who were favorites of van Meegeren. He forged works by Frans Hals, Terborgh en Pieter de Hooch. Eventually, van Meegeren was unmasked towards the end of the second World War, when one of his paintings was found in Goering’s possession. He was arrested for suspicion of collaborating with the German regime, and when he couldn’t explain the origins of the painting he was forced to admit the truth. To prove that he was indeed the maker of the painting and not a mere collaborator who sold an original Vermeer to the Germans, he painted, under supervision, the forgery “Christ in the Temple”. He was sentenced to one year in prison, but died shortly after being sentenced from a heart attack.
Van Meegeren became famous for his forgeries and to this day his works are sold for high prices.